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Paul Nelson reportingThe unemployment picture in Utah is expected to get worse in the next few years. Some advocates for the needy say this could cause a big strain on food stamp usage.
Unemployment rates are not as low as they used to be in Utah, but overall, the state is still looking good. A year ago, the unemployment rate was at 2.4 percent.
Utah Department of Workforce Services Chief Economist Mark Knold said, "Since then, it's climbed up to 3 percent unemployment, but still, in historical context, those are extremely low unemployment rates."
But, Utah may not be able to hold this low unemployment rate forever. Knold says the sub-prime mortgage problems that hit the rest of the country eventually will hit here. "We've got to take care of the housing prices. We've got to get them back into an economic alignment, and it's going to take about two years to do that."
Knold says he's expecting Utah to hit 4 percent unemployment, which would mean about 16,000 more people without jobs, and that's if we don't see any more national manufacturing problems.
"If it gets even worse than what I'm anticipating, then growth rates would be lower in the state, and the unemployment rate may end up going above 4 percent," he said.
With unemployment going up, some economists say the number of people using food stamps will increase. One report says 28 million Americans will get them next year, compared to 26.5 million in 2007. Here in Utah, we did see a big drop in food stamp usage, but that amount has been increasing lately.
Utahns Against Hunger Executive Director Gina Cornia said, "Over the last few months it's started to increase again, and since a year ago it's up about 4 percent. The food stamp caseload is up about 4 percent."
Cornia says a higher usage of food stamps means more pressure on emergency food pantries. "One of the agencies that serves low income folks in Utah County who run the emergency food pantries down there, in the last year have seen a 30 percent increase in the number of households they are serving."
Cornia says pantries in Salt Lake County are also seeing more of a demand. She says some families who are on the higher end of eligibility for food stamps may have been reluctant to take them in the past. But she says they might not be so reluctant if the economy gets softer.